Otis Kaye

American, 1885–1974

U.S. Musical Notes, c. 1940s

Oil on panel

30 x 24½ inches

Signed upper right and titled lower center

Kaye is considered the last of the great trompe l’oeil painters, continuing the tradition of the great 19th-century painters William Michael Harnett and John Frederick Peto. Kaye was particularly adept at depicting American currency. His works were often autobiographical and usually employed puns in the titles and subject matter.

In the present painting, the term “notes” refers to both bank notes and musical notes. The dollar bills and the incredibly realistic violin form a dollar sign. Kaye inserted his own name into the work twice: in the stopwatch and in a quote that can be read on the scrap of newspaper that bears the date October 18, 1937. The quote reads: “Rev. Otis Kaye said, ‘Stop fiddling around chasing money….’” Kaye’s financial situation fluctuated throughout his life, as alluded to in the present painting. A large-scale work by Kaye such as U.S. Musical Notes is a rare find, as the artist did not sell his works during his lifetime.